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An ingredient used in many foods, flour is a fine powder made from cereals or other starchy food sources. It is most commonly made from wheat, but also maize (aka corn), rye, barley and rice, amongst many other grasses and non-grain plants (including many Australian species of acacia).
The vast majority of today's flour consumption is wheat flour. Wheat varieties are typically known as "hard" or "strong" if they have high gluten content, and "soft" or "weak" if gluten content is low. Hard flour, or "bread" flour, is high in gluten and so forms a certain toughness which holds its shape well once baked. Soft flour is comparatively low in gluten and so results in a finer texture. Soft flour is usually divided into "cake" flour, which is the lowest in gluten, and "pastry" flour, which has slightly more gluten than cake flour.
Corn flour is very popular in the southern United States and in Mexico. Coarse whole-grain corn flour is usually called corn meal. Corn meal which has been leached with lye is called masa harina and is used to make tortillas and tamales in Mexican cooking. Corn flour should never be confused with cornstarch, which is known as cornflour in British English.
100% Rye flour is used to bake the traditional sourdough breads of Germany and Scandinavia. Most rye breads use a mix of rye and wheat flours because rye has a low gluten content. Pumpernickel bread is usually made exclusively of rye, and contains a mixture of rye flour and rye meal.
Rice flour is of great importance in Southeast Asian cuisine. Also edible rice paper can be made from it. Most rice flour is made from white rice, thus is essentially a pure starch, but whole-grain brown rice flour is commercially available.
Chestnut flour is popular in Corsica, the Périgord and Lunigiana. In Corsica, it is used to cook the local variety of polenta. In Italy, it is mainly used for desserts.
Chickpea flour (besan) is of great importance in Indian cuisine, and in Italy, where it is used for the Ligurian farinata.
Flour can also be made from soy beans, arrowroot, potatoes, taro, cattail and other non-grain foodstuffs.
Tang flour is a kind of wheat flour used in chinese cooking that is suitable for making outer layer of dumplings and buns. It is also called wheat starch. You can find it in any Chinese supermarket.
Bread, pasta, crackers, many cakes, amongst many other foods, are made using flour. Wheat flour is also used to make a roux as a base for gravy and sauces. White wheat flour is the traditional base for wallpaper paste. It is also the base for papier-mâché. Cornstarch is a principal ingredient of many puddings.
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